In recent years, states have acted to reduce barriers for immigrants to obtain professional licenses through legislation, the governor’s office or creating a task force. The reasons vary, from filling state labor shortages and retaining skilled immigrants to capitalizing on underutilized immigrant talent, and the economic benefits of increased income, spending, and tax revenues from better-paying jobs.
Ten states—California, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, South Dakota, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming—enacted laws providing licenses for certain populations, such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, legal immigrants and/or unauthorized immigrants.
California allows unauthorized immigrants to receive any professional license if all other requirements are met. Florida and Illinois allows DACA recipients to receive a license to practice law. Minnesota created the Foreign-Trained Physician Task Force to address barriers to practice and facilitate pathways to assist immigrant international medical graduates to integrate into the Minnesota health care delivery system. Nebraska allows professional or commercial licenses to DACA recipients. Nevada allows licensing for foreign teachers, South Dakota for dentists, and Utah for occupational therapists. West Virginia allows permits for exchange teachers from foreign countries. Wyoming repealed a requirement for a bar applicant to be a U.S. citizen.
In addition, Michigan, through the governor’s office, directed the licensing agency to make requirements more transparent and easier to understand. New York’s Board of Regents allows licenses and teacher certifications for DACA recipients.
A brief description of each state’s approach and a chart of laws by state follows. Unless otherwise noted, these summaries refer to legislative action.
All individuals seeking a professional license can now provide either a federal Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) or Social Security number (SSN). Any individual lawfully or unlawfully present in the U.S. can apply for and receive a professional license, provided he or she fulfills all other requirements. (S.1159, 2014)
An unauthorized immigrant may be admitted to the Florida state bar if the person applying for a license arrived in the U.S. as a minor, has been present in the U.S. for more than 10 years, has employment authorization from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), has a Social Security number (not an ITIN) and, if male, has registered for Selective Service. (H.755, 2014)
Illinois allows DACA recipients who have work authorization from the USCIS and who have fulfilled all other requirements to receive a license to practice law in the state of Illinois. No person can be prohibited from an attorney’s license because of citizenship status. (S.23, 2015)
Michigan | Executive Branch
Michigan’s State Office of New Americans partnered with nonprofit Upwardly Global (UpGlo) and the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs (LARA) to provide online professional licensing guides for up to 44 professions. In addition, professional job search training for immigrants is available to those who have a green card or refugee status, have a bachelor’s degree or higher, have a minimum of two years work experience outside the United States, and who have lived in the U.S. for less than five years.
The Minnesota Legislature authorized a Foreign-Trained Physician Task Force in 2014 to develop strategies to integrate immigrant physicians to address barriers and alleviate shortages. The Legislature also established the international medical graduates assistance program to assist with integration into the Minnesota health care delivery system, with the goal of increasing access to primary care in rural and underserved areas of the state. The law establishes $500,000 in 2016 and in 2017 for the health care access fund and requires an annual report on progress and recommendations. (S.1340, 2014 and S.1458, 2015)
In 2015, a budget law appropriated $35,000 in 2016 and in 2017 to implement a program to assist foreign-born students and groups underrepresented in nursing to succeed in post-secondary nursing programs. (S.5, 2015)
Nebraska allows immigrants who are lawfully present in the U.S. and who have employment authorization from USCIS to obtain a professional or commercial license and practice his or her profession. (LB947, 2016)
Nevada previously allowed the state superintendent of education to license immigrants with work authorization, if a teacher shortage exists. In 2015, Nevada amended the law to allow school districts to license a person possessing the skills, experience, or abilities that address an area of concern for the school district, and applies the licensing to charter schools as well as public schools. (A.27, 2015)
New York | Board of Regents
In 2016, the New York Board of Regents authorized DACA recipients to obtain a professional license and certain teacher certifications if they have met all other requirements for licensure except for their citizenship status.
Any foreign-trained or other graduate from a dental program not accredited by the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation may apply for a license to practice as a dentist or dental hygienist. The State Board of Dentistry must establish requirements to ensure that an applicant’s training and education are sufficient for licensure. (H1045, 2015)
Utah may issue a license to an occupational therapist or therapy assistant applicant who meets the requirements of receiving a license, and has been licensed in a state, district, U.S. territory or foreign country where the education, experience or examination requirements are not substantially equal to Utah’s requirements, if the applicant passes an examination. (H194 and S131, 2015)
West Virginia issues teaching certificates only to U.S. citizens who meet the qualifications. A permit to teach in the public schools, however, may be granted to “an exchange teacher from a foreign country or an alien person who meets the requirements to teach.” (H2005, 2015)
Wyoming repealed language requiring a bar applicant to be a U.S. citizen. Noncitizens seeking entry into the Wyoming state bar are allowed to do so if they meet all requirements. (HB214, 2015)
Note: Legal immigrants include naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents (green card holders), refugees and asylees. Legal nonimmigrants include those on student, work or other temporary visas.